Hurly-Burly

Photo credit: Sergey Katyshkin via Pexels

This morning I made a to-do list in addition to the one I live by from day to day. The intent of this list is inherent in its title: When the Hurly-Burly’s Done

That is a quote from the opening scene of Macbeth, where the Wyrd Sisters chant in the midst of thunder and lightning:

1st WITCH.

When shall we three meet again?

In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

2nd WITCH.

When the hurly-burly’s done,

When the battle’s lost and won.

3rd WITCH.

That will be ere the set of sun.

In the context of war, treachery, the death of a king and the consequent struggles of a nation, it means they will get together again when the mayhem is over. Given their manipulation of Macbeth himself, it’s mayhem they are actively involved and interested in.

While I am not in any way playing with anyone’s life or ambitions, nor the future of the country, there is plenty of hurly-burly in my life at this point in time .

Hurly-burly or hurlyburly is a word from the early 1500s which means commotion or tumult, which grew out of the  phrase hurling and burling which was used as early as the 1300s. Hurling time was the name applied by chroniclers of the time to the period of tumult and commotion around the Peasants’ Revolt against the young Richard II, led by Wat Tyler in 1381.

It is a wonderfully expressive word that is quite evocative of  the chaos and tumult of its meaning, particularly when delivered with a Scottish accent as it might well be spoken in Macbeth.

Juggling a show, a job, a couple of blogs and a personal life takes some coordination and requires self-care as well as caring for the needs of those around me. It’s busy and demanding, and it definitely feels like hurly-burly to me. Consequently, there are some things that will simply have to wait until after the hurly-burly’s done. The new list should help me ensure they aren’t forgotten.

Sources:

Etymonline.

Middle English Compendium

William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Ploce: It Is What It Is.

One of the catch-all phrases of the 21st century is “It is what it is.” On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer, but when you think about it, it’s a statement that can indicate acceptance, resignation, or simple acknowledgement of a thing or situation. It can communicate “that’s all you’re going to get” or “that’s the best I could do” or “that will have to do. Despite its apparent simplicity, it’s a versatile statement to keep up one’s sleeve.

The repetition in this phrase is known as ploce, pronounced plo-chay .

Photo by Cristian Rojas on Pexels.com

Ploce is a very old word which came into English from Latin from the Greek work plokē meaning complication or twisting, which came from the ancient Greek word plekein which means to plait or weave.
That in itself is fascinating, as it gives a clear impression of the words twisting or weaving around themselves as they are repeated. It’s quite a visual image of what the language is doing.

Ploce is a literary and rhetorical device by which a word is repeated for emphasis.

  • It can be simple repetition, like Popeye saying “I am what I am, and that’s all I am”.
  • It can involve a change in the meaning of the word: 
    Examples:
    “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
    “I don’t want to hear you talk the talk, I want to see you walk the walk.”

    Note: This is also called antanaclasis, but you’ll probably never need to know that unless you’re studying Rhetoric, Classics or Shakespeare.
  • It can involve a change in the form of the word.
    Example:
    “She cried until there was no crying left in her.”

    This is also called polyptoton. You’ll probably never need to know that either, unless you’re studying… you get the idea.

Shakespeare made regular use of ploce in his plays, but my favourite examples are to be found in speeches by Queen Margaret in Richard III:

Screenshot made using Shakespeare Pro v.5.5.2.3
Screenshot made using Shakespeare Pro v.5.5.2.3

Margaret often makes use of elegant imagery and rhetoric in her speeches, and her use of ploce is certainly eloquent.

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Sources:
Silva Rhetorica
ThoughtCo.
Britannica.com

Ploce: It Is What It Is
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Frequently Confused Words: Conscious vs Conscience

This post was inspired by the numerous social media posts I saw this week either stating that certain Australian politicians “have no conscious” or wishing that they would “have a conscious”.While that is, quite ironically, a remarkably astute observation, what those comments obviously meant was that certain Australian politicians have no conscience

Screen shot from Google taken on March 7th, 2021

Conscious is an adjective which means awake, aware, alert, responsive, or possessing mental or moral faculty. If the tweets had been observing a lack of those qualities in said politicians, the word should have been consciousness, as that is the noun form.

Of course, given the behaviour of certain members of the government in recent weeks, and of certain journalists who defend them without investigation or proof of innocence, there is a very strong argument to be made that they lack any number of types of consciousness.

Conscience is the innate, internal knowledge or recognition of right and wrong behaviour, speech, thoughts or motives, or one’s inner sense of fairness and justice. It can also refer to one’s mental or moral faculty that makes decisions based on such knowledge or recognition.

Given the behaviour of certain members of the government in recent weeks, and of certain journalists who defend them without investigation or proof of innocence, there is also a very strong argument to be made for a complete and utter lack of conscience among them.

The two words are crucially different… unless, of course, one lacks both. In that case, the distinction is somewhat irrelevant.

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Frequently Confused Words: Conscious vs Conscience
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Word Nerdy Book Recommendations

If there’s something word nerds love, it’s word-nerdy books.

Personally, I love a great dictionary or thesaurus. I also enjoy books that explore different aspects of the English language and how we use it.

These three books are books I have particularly enjoyed over recent months.

Word Perfect by Susie Dent

This is a wonderful compilation that will please any word lover or etymology enthusiast.

Dent writes with clarity and good humour. The word for each day, and Dent’s definition and etymology of each, are interesting and quirky.

The challenge is to only read each day’s offering instead of running ahead an consuming it more quickly.

Grab a copy, keep it by your favourite chair, and enjoy a wordy treat each day. You won’t be sorry.

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Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

This is a most interesting and entertaining book that traces the histories of words and phrases used in English.

It is a collection of most diverting rabbit holes in print: a world of fascinating information that draws you deeper in each time. Not once have I managed to look up the word or phrase I wanted to reference without discovering another entry nearby that was just as captivating as the first… or second… or third entry I had read.

It really is a treasure trove of words, etymology and history that will delight any lover of the English language.

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Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Usage and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

This book is a delight. With the aim of helping writers achieve greater clarity and better style, Dreyer examines the “rules” of English as we know them, and provides a clear and understandable guide to using the English language most effectively.

The book is written with humour and a relaxed tone, and delivers content that is far more accessible for the everyday reader and writer than my beloved and very worn copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, which is now far less modern than it was when I first obtained the book.

Dreyer’s English is an ideal reference for today’s writers, regardless of their preferred form or the purpose for which they write. It’s also entertaining enough to pick up and read on a Saturday afternoon, without feeling at all like it’s time you’ll never get back.

Highly recommended.

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Word Nerdy #BookRecommendations
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What’s Your ‘Word of the Decade’?

At the end of every year, there is much discussion about which words particularly define the year.

Now, the team at the Macquarie Dictionary is inviting us to vote for what we believe has been the word or term that defines the past decade.

There are some very good inclusions that still carry meaning and import, while others have already fallen in popularity and are not so commonly used.

Even so, the list is a interesting read and an insightful commentary on the past ten years.

Anyone can vote, so have a read and have your say in about the words and terms that evoke the 2010’s most clearly.

Source: Macquarie Dictionary

What’s Your ‘Word of the Decade’?
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The Proud Man’s Contumely.

In Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy — the one that stars with “To be or not to be…” — the overthinking prince lists a number of problems that make life hard to bear. Most of these are things to which we can relate quite easily: oppression, love that is not returned, the wheels of justice turning too slowly, and people being rude to you.

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

Most people, though, would read the speech and get to the phrase ‘the proud man’s contumely’ and be completely stumped.  It’s not a word one comes across terribly often. In all honesty, it’s probably only literature scholars and high school students studying ‘Hamlet’ that are likely to come across the word, and only one of those groups are likely to know right away what it means.

Contumely is a very old word that means disrespectful, offensive or abusive speech or behaviour.

Contumely is interesting in that most English words that end in -ly are adverbs, which describe verbs, but this is a noun. It doesn’t follow the grammatical pattern of English because it is not originally an English word.

It came into English in the late 14th century from the Old French word contumelie,. That came from the Latin word contumelia, which meant’ reproach’ or insult’, and is related to ‘contumax’ with means ‘haughty’ or ‘insolent’.

These days, we’re far more likely to use terms like ‘insolence’, ‘disrespect’ ‘scorn’ or  ‘abuse’ instead. 

Still, it could be fun to respond to someone’s arrogance with ‘I do not have to tolerate your contumely’. Hopefully, it would leave them as perplexed as those high school students reading Hamlet’s soliloquy for the first time.

It could also be useful to know that someone behaving with contumely would be described as contumelious.

This word evolved in the 15th century, so it follows the common pattern of the noun form being used first and the adjective coming afterwards.  Mr Darcy’s haughty dismissal of Elizabeth Bennet at their first meeting, a lawyer strutting and posturing in the courtroom, or one’s mother-in-law’s disdain for their general existence could all be described as contumelious.

References:
Vocabulary.com
wordsmith.org
Online Etymology Dictionary

The Proud Man’s Contumely.
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Awesome.

Image by spirit111 on Pixabay

“Awesome!” is an expression that has become widely used in response to things  or experiences that are really good and very positive and, in my opinion, has become greatly cheapened by overuse.

Dating back to the late 16th century, ‘awesome’ used to be an expression of something that generated profound reverence or fear.

This was the original sense of the word ‘awe’, which goes back to around the turn of the 13th century. It was the term used in English translations of the Bible to describe the human response to the presence of God or of angels: deep fear and worship at the same time.

The phrase “stand in awe” dates back to the early 15th century. The phrase “awe-inspiring’ was first recorded in 1814.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
Etymonline

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Awesome.
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Easily Confused Words: Slither v. Sliver

I was watching a documentary with a friend on Wednesday evening. I nearly spat my drink out when I heard the presenter say, “There was just a slither of a new moon…”

I looked at my friend, only to find she was already looking at me. We were both wondering if we had misheard, but we had not.

What should have been said was, “There was just a sliver of a new moon…”

‘Sliver’ and ‘slither’ may sound similar, but they are neither homophones nor synonyms. They are very different words indeed, and therefore should not be confused.

‘Sliver’ is a noun that means a very thin slice.  There can definitely be a sliver of a new moon in the sky. One can have a sliver of chocolate, or a sliver of cake, although they may wish for more. A sliver of a chance is also likely to leave one wanting for more. A very slender piece of wood or metal – such as that created by shaving  or planing– may also be referred to as a sliver.

‘Slither’  is a verb that means to slide or to move in a squirmy way, as animals without legs do. Snakes and eels contract their muscles so they look to move sideways. So do some worms. Snails and slugs slither in a different way again, looking as though they simply contract and then stretch forward.

So, If someone claims to see a slither of a new moon, they may need to either get their eyes checked or give up drinking.

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Easily Confused Words: Slither v. Sliver
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Spooky.

Spooky is a word that is fun to say, and feels good in the mouth when you say it. It is perceived as a more positive term than its synonyms, so it can be used to make scary things seem less threatening or terrifying. Perhaps that is why it’s used so much around the time of Halloween. 

Spooky is an adjective that means frightening, scary or creepy, or which is used to describe someone who is easily frightened.

The earliest written record of spooky to mean ‘frightening’ dates back to 1854, and to describe someone who was easily frightened goes back to 1926.

Spooky is derived from the Dutch word spook which is much older. It came into English from Dutch, where it had been used for centuries to mean ‘ghost’.  it shares a Germanic root with similar words in other languages: the Swedish call a scarecrow a ‘spok’, while the Norwegians cale a ghost or spectre a ‘spjok’.

The use of spook as a verb, meaning to move or act like a ghost dates to 1867, and meaning to haunt goes back to 1881, while the sense of startling or unnerving someone is first recorded in 1935. 

In the 20th century, spook took on some new meanings. During World War I, spook was used as a term for a wireless operator or signaller in the army. In the 1940s, people began to use spook as a term for a spy or undercover agent.

So, when you see or hear the word ‘spooky’, remember that it’s more than just a fun word: it also has a long and interesting history.

Sources:
Etymonline
Merriam-Webster
Macquarie Dictionary

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Pedant vs. Teacher

Most people use the term ‘pedant’ in a derogatory way, usually in reference to someone they perceive as being too fussy or too strict about rules. 

On the occasions when I have been called a “grammar pedant”, I have generally responded as though someone is paying me a huge compliment. I invariably say something like “Oh stop it, you flatterer!” or “One day you’ll say that like it’s a bad thing!”

As a lover of the English language and words in general, there are things to we should be paying careful attention. There is value in pointing out where a student needs an apostrophe or a comma in their writing, or where they can express an idea or key point of information more clearly. That is part of being a teacher. It’s my job.

However, I try to restrain myself from correcting people’s grammar on social media, though, for two reasons:

  1. I don’t have time. I have a life to live, and I need sleep to function.
  2. They tend not to like it much.

What many people don’t know is that the word pedant was actually derived from the world of teaching and education. It came to English from either the  Italian word ‘pedante’ or from its descendant, the later Middle French word pédant, both of which referred to a schoolmaster or teacher.  It may be one of those words that came into English from more than one source. The Italian word is derived from the Latin word paedagogantem, which is the origin of the words pedagogue and pedagogy, which are also related to teaching and education. 

By the late 16th century, though, the English were using the term in a negative rather than a neutral way.  ‘Pedant’ had already come to be used for one who placed undue emphasis on the minor details of learning, or someone who focused on details or technicalities  instead of looking at overall issues or taking a wider view of general learning and practice. 

In that sense, correcting someone’s grammar on social media when it is clearly not appreciated is being unnecessarily pedantic. Perhaps that is the distinction that really needs to be made.

Alternatively, it might be a somewhat uncomfortable yet valuable opportunity to improve both one’s learning and professional credibility in an age where prospective employers and customers look at social media profiles before deciding to give a job or order to a particular person. This is particularly true for anyone who should be reasonably expected to have a sound grasp on the language, such as teachers, writers, bloggers and professionals who rely on clear communication in their work. 

Let’s face it. I may not care if someone misspells an uncommon word, or one they’ve only heard and not read, but if they don’t bother to differentiate between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ on social media, I’m neither going to buy their book, nor hire them to write my copy or teach my kids. 

Fussy? Yes. 
Pedantic? Probably. 
Apologetic? Not one bit. 

Reference: Online Etymology Dictionary

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Pedant vs. Teacher
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